Blog, Human Resources

HR World – 30 Questions you can’t ask

HR World has a new article titled “30 Interview Questions You Can’t Ask and 30 Sneaky, Legal Alternatives to Get the Same Info“.

At first, the title seemed to turn me off to the advice, but after reading through it, I’m OK with it but would have preferred a different title without the word “sneaky”.

There is some good advice for interviewers in the article. For example, one of the illegal questions and its legal alternative is:

What you can’t ask: Are you a U.S. citizen?

Although this seems like the simplest and most direct way to find out if an interviewee is legally able to work for your company, it’s hands-off. Rather than inquiring about citizenship, question whether or not the candidate is authorized for work.

What to ask instead: Are you authorized to work in the U.S.?

Another interesting example:

What you can’t ask: Have you had any recent or past illnesses or operations?

Again, gauging commitment is important, but illness isn’t something that most people can help.The answer here is to make sure that the candidate can perform the job while avoiding questions about his or her physical abilities.

What to ask instead: Are you able to perform the essential functions of this job with or without reasonable accommodations?

The article does a good job presenting illegal questions and alternative questions that an interviewer can use to gather as much information as possible.

Perhaps an unintended accomplishment of the article is to educate people that are interviewing as to what some key phrases in job descriptions and interviews might be and what they might mean. For example:

What you can’t ask: Do you have or plan to have children?

Clearly, the concern here is that family obligations will get in the way of work hours. Instead of asking about or making assumptions on family situations, get to the root of the issue by asking directly about the candidate’s availability.

What to ask instead: Are you available to work overtime on occasion? Can you travel?

This is an interesting question. Instead of directly asking if you have children, the interviewer might ask availability questions…knowing that these types of questions might be alternatives to the question such as ‘do you have children’ or a similar question might help the interviewee better understand the job.

Its an interesting article and definitely worth reading.

[tags] HR, people, Leadership, organization, Human Resources [/tags]

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About Eric D. Brown, D.Sc.

Eric D. Brown, D.Sc. is a data scientist, technology consultant and entrepreneur with an interest in using data and technology to solve problems. When not building cool things, Eric can be found outside with his camera(s) taking photographs of landscapes, nature and wildlife.
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16 years ago

Eric – I agree that “sneaky” is a turn-off, sounds a little south of ethical, but the examples you included got me interested. I also agree that potential candidates might use the list as a primer on what an employer is really asking during an interview. Additionally, hiring can be a tricky process from a hiring manager’s perspective so it’s always good to brush up on what you’re allowed to ask and what’s off limits. Not that things change that often, but rather that sometimes seemingly innocent or simple questions (got kids? r u a US citizen?) can get the… Read more »

Eric Brown
16 years ago

Thanks for the comment Raven.

Hiring is a tricky process….it is difficult to find the right person for a role and you wouldn’t want to mess it up by asking inappropriate and/or illegal questions.